Sticks and Stones Theatre takes on Annie Baker’s The Aliens, a potent play packing an emotional punch, with powerful results.
Set in small town Vermont, the story takes place in the back alley of a cafe, where Jasper and KJ spend their time talking of Bukowski, the challenges of life, and generally hanging out in the silence. They befriend a young high-schooler, Evan, who works at the restaurant and the three form a unique bond.
Under the direction of Kevin Bennett, Baker’s beautiful script benefits from strong performances.
As played by Tim Howe, Jasper is a handsome and brooding guy who talks animatedly about his breakup with Andréa. As we we are brought into his fragile self, we see behind the facade of the usually cool and armored man.
As KJ, Zac Scott sings quietly to himself, as we come to sympathize with his surprising and odd actions.
Together we are witness to a rare friendship, one where they can joke about living on a wind farm, sing a beautiful and ridiculous song from their old ‘band’, and are there for each other in the silence too.
Evan Shelmerdine (Teo Saefkow) is an innocent, genuine guy who brings a refreshing humour and energy to the stage. The formation of his connection to the other men is fun to watch.
While the first act is a little slow, emphasising the existential nature of Baker’s play, the second moves the story along significantly as we witness the developing and powerful bond between Evan and the two self-proclaimed “geniuses”.
Long pauses are a big part of Baker’s script. And while they help to build a funny sense of tension to casual moments, there are just too many to effectively sustain the feeling.
The emotional ending to Baker’s story hits hard, thanks to Zac Scott’s commitment to the story. In the final scene between KJ and Shelmerdine, one cannot help but feel the effect that this friendship has had on all of them.
Production designer Stephanie Wong has simply transformed the Havana Theatre into the alley location, complete with a picnic table, metal fence, and hanging lanterns.
While a play centering on three young white men and their existential crises may not be ground-breaking theatre in the current political climate, Annie Baker’s simple and powerful script does leave you wanting more.
It is recommended for anyone who wants to see real friendship bloom on stage.
The Aliens by Annie Baker. Directed by Kevin Bennett. On stage at the Havana Theatre (1212 Commercial Dr, Vancouver) until February 4. Visit https://www.sticksandstonestheatre.com for tickets and information.